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Breast Cancer Survivor Asks What To Do for Post-Chemo Depression and Anxiety

27 Oct

Hi!  I have used your CD's to help me with my Breast Cancer treatment.  I am now done with the treatment and left, hopefully, medically cancer free.  But oh what a number has been done on my spirit!  Lack of trust in my body, in the future, and sea sickness from all the emotions roiling around in me. 

I have read that MANY (maybe most) Breast Cancer survivors have to seek help from anti-depressants or simply suffer untreated depression after their medical treatment.  Since what especially needs healing now is the spirit, what better work for guided imagery?  Maybe your post trauma CD is what I am looking for and I will try it, but it seems there are some specific aspects of cancer fighting (like the possibility of recurrence) that make this need unique.
 
Do you take requests?  : )
Thanks, Joyce

Hi, Joyce,

Yes, we take requests but don’t necessarily deliver on them, as our to-do list of titles is very long.  Mostly, we start with those that have been requested most, as long as we don’t have philosophical differences with the topic (e.g., “imagery to make me rich, thin and popular, now").

Now let’s talk about your fractured spirit.  Although I don’t think it’s true that most breast cancer survivors end up on anti-depressants after their treatment is over, I think it’s safe to say that if they’ve had most forms of chemo, they may think they’re depressed, whether they are or not.  Leftover chemo in your system can leave you emotionally flat, tired, discouraged, anxious and dispirited – but it’s possible that this is physiologically based and will clear out within six months or so, when the last of it clears your system.  In fact, when I used to have my practice, I would warn people in advance that they may start feeling hopeless, discouraged and “depressed” and it could very well be the chemo talking, so not to assume that they’re depressed or that their situation is hopeless.  I used to look them in the eye and point my bony, arthritic finger at them, saying “Now, you remember I told you this, when you start feeling crappy and you’re thinking it’s all pointless!”.

That said, many people who were once able to take their health for granted feel utterly betrayed by their bodies and frightened to death of a recurrence.  There can even be some anger and shame in the mix (as if it were your fault you got sick, irrational as that is), and an uncomfortable feeling of jealousy of those lucky ingrates who are still managing to take their good health for granted!  

But this is something that the passage of time is very likely to heal.  An adjustment in your self-perception is required, and you’ve been so busy fighting your cancer and managing your chemo symptoms, you really haven’t had time to make it.  It’s only when the chemo is over that the full impact of what’s happened to you can sink in, and the first wave of emotion isn’t exactly a day at the beach.  Give yourself time to integrate this new information.  You will.  After the first batch of 6-month check-ups, when you have some reassurance that the cancer isn’t nipping at your heels, you’ll be able to go from the self perception of “Good grief, I’m a person who was diagnosed with cancer!!” to the eventual “I’m a wife and mother and artist, a great cook and a good friend, and, oh, yeah, I once had cancer”.  

Then again, it’s important to note that there’s a goodly percentage of oncology patients who wind up with acute stress or posttraumatic stress – I think it’s around 23% - from some combination of their diagnosis, treatment and lousy experiences with health personnel, hospitals or family members.  If you think this might be the case for you, then the Healing Trauma imagery is just the ticket (and it can be healing, even if you’re not officially traumatized).  The Depression imagery could also work well, and is quite different from the trauma imagery (depression is separate from posttraumatic stress, even though they often accompany each other). 

Finally, it might be important for you to have a sense that you’re still actively doing things to keep yourself strong and well, so you can stay empowered with a sense of your own efficacy.  Part of the problem for some people, post-chemo, is the weirdly passive feeling when chemo is over, that there’s nothing to do now except wait to see if the cancer wants to come back – not a great place to be! 

So if you use either the General Wellness imagery, which has some generalized immune system imagery in it; or Emmett Miller’s immune imagery (the second track on either his Optimizing Chemotherapy or Optimizing Radiation Therapy you could have a much better, more active sense that you’re still doing what you can to stay well.  A consult with Keith Block MD or Henry Dreher could also help you choose the right nutritional supplements to beef up your immune functioning; as could taking up the practice of yoga or qigong.  

So those are my thoughts.  I hope this helps.  Let me know how you’re feeling in a few months – I’m betting it will be a lot better.

All best,

Belleruth
 

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award